Two Cabinet Ministers have pushed back at the Integrity Commission’s (IC’s) press release in which it seemingly scolded Prime Minister Andrew Holness and other members of his Cabinet for their failure to sign the commission’s leadership code of conduct.
In what is now a brewing public spat between Government officials and the IC, the anti-corruption agency signalled out Minister without Portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) with responsibility for information, Robert Morgan, and Legal and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Marlene Malahoo Forte, for public comments they made relative to the code of conduct.
“The commission will not be frightened or intimidated to act in any way that is contrary to the public interest. Nor will it subject itself to the undue influence or desires of any person, official, or authority while discharging its lawful functions under the law,” declared the commission said in a lengthy statement on Tuesday.
In his remarks at a post-Cabinet press briefing on Wednesday, Morgan said the commission made several claims in its press release that are not “borne out of fact” in reference to him.
In response, Morgan pointed to an answer he gave to a reporter at a post-Cabinet briefing last month on whether Prime Minister Andrew Holness or any member of the Cabinet had signed the leadership code of conduct crafted by the commission, which it invited Holness to sign from last year.
Morgan said at the time when he responded, he spoke for himself when he said he was not presented with any document to sign.
“I assert that nothing I said (then) is erroneous, as up to this moment 8:15 (am) on Wednesday, June 7, no code of conduct has been presented to me, nor have I been consulted on a code of conduct,” he shared.
Moreover, the minister said the IC’s remarks relative to his perceived public comments was “mischievous” and “might at worse, undermine my credibility as the minister with responsibility for information”.
Morgan also said it was Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding who were both initially engaged with by the commission in relation to signing the document and not Cabinet members.
This is an admission that was made by the IC in its own statement, Morgan asserted, adding that it was Golding who requested that members of his shadow cabinet also sign the code.
He also challenged the commission to provide evidence that he was invited or received any specialised training from it on anti-corruption and good governance between November 9, 2020 and February 15, 2021, and between November 15, 2021 and May 30, 2022, respectively.
Morgan, in a strident manner, pointed to existing codes of practice and accountability frameworks that already bind the nation’s political leaders.
“While signing an additional code of conduct should or could symbolise further commitment, it is equally important to recognise the substantial measures already in place to uphold integrity, good governance and accountability,” he stated.
“It cannot be reasonable and fair for us to be intimidated and threatened to sign an additional code without even an iota of consultation,” declared Morgan.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who is a member of the oversight committee currently reviewing the Integrity Commission Act, told the post-Cabinet briefing that he is “extremely concerned” about the statement issued by the commission.
“I find the statement to be rude, repugnant, and offensive,” he said sternly.
Chuck also rejected a suggestion by the IC, which he said meant that those who fail to sign the leadership code of conduct “don’t intend to live up” to the particular conduct outlined in the document.
“Let me say like Minister Morgan, I’ve never seen this code of conduct. I don’t know what is in it, so I can’t really comment on it,” the justice minister informed.
“… But let me say that from I was a teenager, I determined to live by my Christian principles, so signing any code of conduct won’t help me to live better,” declared Chuck.
The IC, in its release, admitted that while there is “no legal requirement imposed upon public officials to commit” to its leadership code of conduct, “an official’s formal subscription to the code will obviously be a clear demonstration to the people of Jamaica of the standards of integrity, governance and accountability” that he or she is prepared to “submit” to as “the holder of high public office”.
Failure of any political official to do so, the commission asserted “will also signal to Jamaicans the type of leadership and accountability that they should not expect from him/her.”
For Chuck, the IC was going “beyond” what its jurisdiction is, which is that of an anti-corruption agency.
“… But it is now making itself to be an oversight body for good governance for accountability,” he said, adding that was the auditor general’s jurisdiction.
“We want the Integrity Commission to expose corruption in this country. Those who are engaged in corruption must be identified, apprehended and charged,” Chuck stated sternly.
He said this is the reason why the Government gave the IC “in excess of $1.2 billion” last year, followed by in excess of $1.3 billion.
“… But so far, the Integrity Commission has demonstrated to the Jamaican people by its actions, that there are doubts as to whether it can be trusted in the reports it sends out,” Chuck lamented.
Chuck reminded of the February’s actions by the commission that caused reputational damages to Prime Minister Andrew Holness when it delayed the tabling of a ruling that freed him (Holness) of any conflict of interests allegations in the awarding of Government contracts while he (Holness) was education minister.